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Marketing in a hot economy, and in cooling economiesBy Jeremy Martin
Marketing. Some of us hate it, some of us love it. Some contractors are great at it, but frankly others are absolutely terrible. If you’re continuing to benefit from the COVID boom in home improvement industries, you may ask why bother? Listen, there are certain rules in economics that have yet to be broken, including the cyclical nature of the economy.
We will absolutely see a downturn eventually. When I wrote the first draft of this article, there were no signs of a downturn. Today that may no longer the case in some markets, and they’re already experiencing a correction. If you haven’t seen it yet… you will!
A booming economy makes us sloppy. We slack off on our customer service, reasoning that we can’t possibly satisfy all the people who call anyway. If we scare off a few, who cares? There’s lots of money rolling in, so we get a little less disciplined in watching the bottom line. And we stop marketing, because we’re already turning away work.
Conversely, some contractors will slash the marketing budget when they perceive a downturn “because nobody is spending money anyway.” These are all great ways to set a business up for failure!
Here are 7 reasons to keep on marketing:
1. Build brand awareness and position yourself as the authorityOur record streak of sales will end. We cannot depend on the referrals to sustain us forever. When demand drops, whose name will be in the potential client’s mind? Certainly not the contractor who shut down his marketing! Marketing now is banking leads for the future. It can also position you as an expert that others know they can turn to when they need a solution to a challenging issue.
2. Marketing enables profit growthHow can we grow when we’ve already maxed out our team’s billable hours? Do you know what your most profitable service is? If so, market for it! Start turning away projects that are less profitable. An abundance of leads allows you the luxury of choosing your projects.
3. Marketing enables gross sales growthWe’re already assuming that you can’t sell any more billable hours. Just like marketing can increase your profit ratios by weeding out less profitable services, it can allow you to add services that sell more product.
While I believe in using Charles Vander Kooi’s MORS (Multiple Overhead Recovery System) and recovering most of my overhead in labor, I still make money on materials. If my marketing allows me to sell premium products with higher margins? That’s a win!
4. Marketing is seen by more than your target audienceWe should absolutely be targeting our advertising. But I’ve learned that my clients have seen my help wanted ads. Likewise, I’ve received a call from a potential employee who saw one of our marketing ads. If and when you’re ready to hire more staff to meet demand, your company is more likely to attract qualified candidates if it’s already known for quality work.
5. Market for your company’s future position in the marketIf you’re currently building $20,000 projects and want to move towards $50,000 projects, market for where you want to be. Same thing for going from $50K to $100K… pick the number of zeros you want in your contracts and work at growing your business.
6. Market for underserved or emerging marketsSee a service that is underserved or emerging? Market for it! Two cases in point: pools & stormwater management. Listen, I don’t have the capacity for adding pools to our services. But when the reputable pool builders are booked out 2-3 years, there is clearly room for more quality pool contractors! Bringing that service in house would allow more control of project timelines.
For ourselves, we decided to embrace stormwater management rather than fight it. We chose to educate ourselves and develop marketing strategies for it. We also developed a number of resources to educate both our clients and local code officials. That decision has resulted in many additional projects.
7. Marketing can be defensiveI’ve listed this last because I think it’s of least importance. But if you’re in my market and you’re not marketing? Just know that my company is still marketing, and I might be winning your clients. Keep your company visible so that other companies’ messages aren’t burying yours.
Marketing, and how our company does itBy now, hopefully I’ve convinced you to continue marketing! But what exactly IS marketing? Its definition is “the activity or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.”
We primarily market through our website and through social media. We also do some marketing through pay per click (PPC) & email blasts, but to a lesser extent. We are working towards bringing back direct mail on a limited basis, and we occasionally host a neighborhood open house at a newly completed project.
Website marketingDon’t skimp. Hire the best company you can build and maintain it. We had a couple cheap sites that never delivered much. The first major design cost me $7,000. I got an amazing design, but they didn’t include basic search engine optimization (SEO) so it still didn’t get results.
SEO should be part of the initial build. If not… find somebody else. Basic SEO should be baked into the build. My first website had intentionally left key parts undone, so I’d be forced into buying SEO services. I got frustrated, and transferred everything to another company that I could trust.
Get amazing photos of your own work. I won’t permit stock photography on my site; if a client finds a picture on my website I don’t ever want to have to say it’s not my work.
Don’t try to do it yourself. Sure you can teach yourself some basics. But there are 3 likely scenarios: you do it well, but it takes too much of your valuable time from more important tasks in your business; you have a site that looks amateur; or you build a beautiful site but it doesn’t deliver the leads.
Social media marketingIdentify your target audience and where they are. I’m on Instagram but find it to be an echo chamber. It’s mostly other contractors following me, and they don’t hire me!
Here are some ideas for when you post on social media:
- Keep it consistent with other marketing.
- Make sure it points back to your website
- Keep it professional. Don’t post things that will make clients reconsider hiring you.
In closing… everything should have a consistent feel. From the shirts the crew wears, to the trucks, to the website, to the social media channels… all should use common themes to reinforce your brand.
I favor directing everything back to our website. It is the only platform we own! Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube – all of these can and do change the rules. Our website also allows us to effectively capture more information from the client.
Are there other methods of marketing? Of course! Be creative and track the source of your leads so you can identify the most effective ads.
Jeremy Martin co-founded Willow Gates Landscaping in 2005. He became an ICPI instructor in 2016, NCMA in 2018. He also founded Dust Killer Tools to help his company meet 2017 OSHA silica standards. Email Jeremy@DustKiller.tools. Visit WillowGatesLandscaping.com and DustKiller.tools